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Monday, July 2, 2018

Why Fairy Doctor Shouldn't Be the New Trendy Title

I'm seeing an upswing in ads online for fairy doctor courses. It's a simple premise and one that we see in other practices and spiritualities as well: pay your money and get certified as a fairy doctor.
I have some problems with this, and it bothers me enough that I feel that I should probably say something about it here.

My usual caveats stand: I am not telling anyone what to do or what terms to use but I am urging people to give some serious thought to the appropriateness and appropriation that may be going on here. I would also point out that whenever Irish cultural terms are being used it should be Irish cultural context and Irish people who ultimately act as the litmus test for use. It is not for us, as people outside that living culture, to take that term and redefine it in ways that suit us. 

I don't want to get excessively ranty, here, so let me just say a few things. 

Firstly as far as I know traditionally, like bean feasa, being a fairy doctor wasn't something you necessarily decided you were but something your community decided you were. Certainly there were, and still may be, people who were known in their communities and even further afield as fairy doctors. People got reputations for being able to tell when it was fairies that had caused an illness or injury and to handle harm caused by them. And there may well have been those who intentionally set themselves up that way - but the key is the community had to accept and respect that the person actually had the knowledge and skill to back it up. It wasn't a matter of having paid x amount of money and receiving a nice diploma saying you passed a course; it was a matter of actually doing the work and earning the reputation. 

You also darn sure better have the skills to back up the claim because if people are coming to you with Otherworldly problems its not just going to be little stuff like 'my keys keep disappearing' it's going to be 'I think I'm going mad, I can't stop dreaming of fairies, and I wake up covered in bruises'. It's worth remembering that fairy doctors were only called in when everything else, from common folk remedies to grandmother's secret cures, had failed. A fairy doctor is an expert, and I am beyond skeptical that any online or in-person course can teach this unless we are talking PhD levels of time and effort.

Both Yeats and Wilde discuss fairy doctors in their books, and while those sources have their issues, they are consistent in how they describe the fairy doctors of the 19th century: people known to have a connection to the Good People; thought to have learned their skill from that connection; able to discern the cause of supernatural afflictions be it witchcraft or fairies; able to cure with charms, chants, or herbs (Yeats, 1888, Wilde 1991). Most were said to have the Second Sight and used it so they could deal with the Good People and also tell where fairy paths were (Yeats, 1888). Wilde mentions that fairy doctors would not accept any payment for their services but only take barter or gifts in exchange, although such exchanges were expected; we see this illustrated in stories of Biddy Early who was called witch, bean feasa, and fairy doctor.  

Becoming a fairy doctor was not a matter of human tutelage, although Wilde suggests that they did teach their skills to their own children and Yeats says they would teach a single successor before they died. Instead becoming a fairy doctor was usually seen as something they learned directly from the Daoine Maithe usually through abduction by the fairies for a time, regular visiting with them, or a near death illness (Locke, 2013; O Crualaoich, 2003; Wilby, 2005). Unlike other practices then fairy doctors are somewhat unique in that the connection they had and knowledge they gained from the Otherworld was pivotal and not something by most accounts that could simply be taught, anymore than the Second Sight could be.

There are also indications from the source material on the 19th century fairy doctors that they were always people who, perhaps because of their strong connection to the Fair Folk, were considered odd. They were prone to going off - being away with the fairies - and to knowing more than they should about what had and would happen. They had peculiar personal habits, such as one man from Innis Sark who Lady Wilde described thus: "He never touched beer, spirits, or meat in all his life, but has lived entirely on bread, fruit. and vegetables...He will pay his share at a feast, but neither eats nor drinks of the food and drink set before him...Though well off, he never, even in his youth, thought of taking a wife; nor was he ever known to love a woman. He stands quite apart from life, and by this means holds his power over the mysteries. No money will tempt him to impart his knowledge to another, for if he did he would be struck dead--so he believes." (Wilde, 1991).

To summarize. Fairy doctors were/are people whose communities declare them such, not individuals who self label. Fairy doctors must be absolute experts at discerning and dealing with dangerous fairies and harm caused by them (and witches). Fairy doctors usually have the Sight, are taught directly by the fairies (are often referred to as friends of the fairies), and are skilled with magic and herbs. Fairy doctors don't accept money for their skill or knowledge relating to their craft. Fairy doctors don't choose to be fairy doctors; the job chooses them. Fairy doctors don't blend in to human society very well. 

I'm honestly not sure why anyone would want to be a fairy doctor given what it entails, but honestly unless you feel like the majority of that description legitimately applies to you I would suggest not calling yourself by the term. And if you really aspire to fairy doctorhood then I wish you luck and fortitude. You will need it.


Yeats, W., (1888) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry 

Locke, T., (2013). The Fairy Doctor. Retrieved from Crualaoich, G., (2003) The Book of The Cailleach
Wilde, L., (1991). Irish Cures and Mystic Superstitions

Wilby, E., (2005) Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits

1 comment:

  1. groan, oy,vey, not again. You are too good and too patient, Morgan. I just can't be around neos or only goddess worshippers any more. The amount of dreck, scheiss, sh#t, that comes from that direction is too much to take. The greed of certain publishers know no bounds.